- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s hard to debate Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan when he points out that his team has picked up its last two losses by running into two hot superstars playing at their best.

Thursday night, Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett, the 2003-04 league MVP and eight-time All-Star, totaled 25 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in a 109-98 victory over the Wizards.

Tuesday night, Cleveland’s LeBron James was just as dominant when he had 37 points and 10 rebounds in a 114-99 win over Washington.

Two superstars. Two unstoppable performances.

But what is a little disturbing for the 5-3 Wizards is the AWOL status of their defense in those two games. After so much has been made about the team’s new-found commitment to stopping teams, lately that just hasn’t been the case.

“There were some breakdowns on our part but you have to give them credit,” Jordan said after the Minnesota game. “I told my team don’t get down on themselves. We played hard but not necessarily smart a lot of times. I still think we played hard, aggressive and together.”

Jordan, who has stressed the importance of defense this season more than at any point in his three years with the Wizards, is not worried just yet that his team will revert to the porous defenders of last season. After all, it’s still early and every player believes this team is tough enough to play solid defense.

But still, as the Wizards prepared for Thursday’s game against Minnesota, the only thing colder here than the Timberwolves’ offense had been the single-digit temperatures that gripped the region.

Only once this season before the Wizards’ visit had they succeeded in breaking 100 points and that was in an overtime loss at lowly Seattle. In their four previous games, under the direction of new coach Dwane Casey, the Timberwolves averaged just more than 90 points, and at 93.1 points per game they ranked 23rd in scoring.

But Minnesota had its way against the Wizards, shooting 53.5 percent from the field. And when the game was decided in the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves had little trouble making plays, shooting 63.2 percent.

In Cleveland, the Wizards experienced similar defensive breakdowns at critical times. With Gilbert Arenas struggling offensively (he scored 18 points on 4-for-17 shooting), the Wizards needed to be even more defensive-minded.

But the Cavaliers diced through the Wizards in the second half to score 67 points, shooting 58.1 percent. In the fourth quarter, they shot 63.2 percent, hitting 12 of 19 shots.

In fact, the only games the Wizards have lost this season are when they have allowed 100 points and a high shooting percentage. When the Clippers beat them 102-97 last week, Los Angeles shot 57.6 percent in the second half and 66.7 in the fourth quarter.

“That’s still our focus,” Antawn Jamison said after the Cleveland loss. “Gotta stop people. We have to.”

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